Cummins Uses Six Sigma To Be Sure Tech Managers Are Ready To Step Up

CIO Farnsley applies process improvement method to identifying and developing the manufacturer's IT management talent.

John Soat, Contributor

December 14, 2007

5 Min Read

When it comes to having talent queued up to advance when top spots open, most IT departments don't have deep benches, especially in the area of management skills. Cummins CIO Gail Farnsley realized that, for her fast-growing, multibillion-dollar manufacturing company, not having that deep bench of IT talent was a problem. Cummins was looking outside the company for IT managers, while potential candidates were languishing within.

Farnsley decided to bring her training in Six Sigma process improvement (she's a midlevel Green Belt) to the task of identifying and developing employees with potential to move into IT management, particularly the eight business-unit tech manager positions that report to her. It wasn't a clean fit. "It's not a perfect Six Sigma project," she says, mostly because management skills are hard to quantify.

Farnsley has realized what too many IT managers haven't: What makes a good IT manager has changed, and IT departments aren't preparing people for the new demands. "It's more than an execution job," she says. An IT manager today has to be a business partner and has to have international, compliance, and even Six Sigma experience. "We weren't pushing our people to have those skills," she says.

Farnsley began the project with a "voice of the customer" survey, asking business-unit heads about the strengths and weaknesses of the IT division. Then she ranked and prioritized the qualities of a future IT leader.

One area Farnsley identified was that IT management candidates need experience in non-IT roles. So she's working with HR to identify jobs an IT person could do for a couple of years, in marketing or manufacturing, for example.

Farnsley's goal isn't just to identify high-potential candidates, but to track how many of them actually make it to leadership positions. The end goal is simple: "The next time we have a [business unit] position open, we have a person internal to fill it," she says.

Farnsley should finish the project next month. Then she'll present it to the IT leadership team, HR, and the company's functional leader group, which includes the heads of manufacturing, marketing, and sales, as well as Farnsley herself.

The question that kicked off the project was this: "Do we have the right leaders in place to meet our growth challenge?" Farnsley hopes to be able to answer that soon in the affirmative.

Q&A With Gail Farnsley

InformationWeek: How did your Six Sigma IT leadership project come about?

Farnsley: We were looking at where the company's heading in terms of growth, and we wondered, do we have the right leaders in place to meet that growth challenge? Also, in the last six or seven years, the demographics of IT leaders have changed. And we were looking outside the company for IT managers, which isn't a good thing. We weren't developing our people internally.

IW: What IT management jobs were you concerned about?

Farnsley: Business unit IT leaders-they don't have the CIO title. These business units are significant entities in themselves. The largest business unit has a capital budget $30 million and an expense budget of $70 million.

IW: What problems in the HR process were you trying to address?

Farnsley: We wanted to use the company's Organizational Development Review process. At Cummins everyone has an individual development plan. On the form it might say they need international experience, or whatever the thing is. If it was left up to the manger to talk to the person about it, it didn't happen. We wanted to come out of the ODR process matching those needs to specific jobs.

IW: What kind of jobs would provide good experience for potential IT leaders?

Farnsley: In India, we have an IT leader for our shared services. Also we have an area business leader who coordinates IT in India. Those are good developmental roles. They provide line-of-business experience versus project experience, and also international experience.

IW: How will the Six Sigma project help that?

Farnsley: We might identify four jobs that would be ideal, but none are available now. Why? If these are the key development jobs, do we have people in those jobs who are blockers, not high potential employees? Now we hope to have a much more strict process.

IW: What other benefits do you see?

Farnsley: I was concerned that we were creating a big divide between IT and the business. So that when you need someone to lead a big business initiative, the IT managers aren't being considered. They are just IT people. That's why we're looking to develop leadership skills, business partnership skills. You can get by in IT if those aren't you're strongest things, but it's getting harder. You can be a really good project manager, but if you're not viewed with coming up with innovative initiatives for the company, you won't advance.

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